Eielson Will Keep F-16 Squadron

The Secretary of the Air Force told Alaska officials Tuesday that Eielson Air Force Base will keep its F-16 Aggressor squadron.

Alaska Congressman Don Young says it’s good news on its own but it also improves the chances the Eielson will get F-35 aircraft, too.

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“It means we have a permanent wing in Eielson and the chances, the worry of it being moved to Fort Rich or Elmendorf are now put to rest,” Young said. “It’s a positive thing so I feel very good about it.”

The Air Force said last fall it was considering moving the 18 F-16s now based near Fairbanks to make room for two squadrons of F-35s. Eielson remains the military’s preferred location for the new aircraft, a decision that could mean thousands of new jobs for the Fairbanks area.

If Eielson keeps what it has and gains two fighter squadrons, Sen. Lisa Murkowski says the base will need additional infrastructure.

“I think a very critical cost assessment was made, and a decision to invest in Eielson for the long-term was made,” she said.

A final basing decision for the F-35s is expected next year.

Meanwhile, a U.S. House panel today reviewed the production problems that continue to plague the F-35. These have included engine failure, software errors, cracked bulkheads and a fire. As Ohio Republican Congressman Mike Turner points out, the price tag has sky-rocketed.

“Current acquisition costs are now approaching $400 billion, which according to the GAO makes this DoD’s most costly and ambitious acquisition program,” Turner said at the hearing.

Still, lawmakers and Pentagon officials say they have to make the program work to produce the next generation of stealth fighters. Congressman Young says the cost overruns concern him, but Young says they reflect massive leaps in technology.

“This plane is going to be the best,” Young said. “It’ll do anything anybody ever wanted it to do. But it is so far-reaching in modern technology there’s going to be some glitches, but I’m not discouraged about that at all.”

Fairbanks is also waiting to hear if the U.S. Army plans to keep Gray Eagle drones at Fort Wainwright. The unmanned vehicles are about the size of a Cessna and similar to the Air Force Predator drones.